This I Believe: Jeff Janacek (2002)

I believe a third of people I know should be wondering about at least a third of what I do – if not, maybe I need to change my course a bit.  Those who know me well are wondering how I ever got this far into such a talk without mentioning my interest in boating.  For an excellent example of this one-third guideline, I spend a lot of time and money fooling with boats and recently became a USCG licensed captain, allowing me to take out people for hire in a boat all sorts of places, but have no idea what I will ever do with it.  Sally quickly points out that I carry a photo of our boat in my wallet, but not one of any members of our family.

If I’m not on some kind of vacation, I’m probably planning one and love to play with Sally, my boys, and many others.  I also enjoy racquetball, judo, bicycling, skiing, camping, backpacking, hiking, fishing (not catching), canoeing, walking, and writing.  I ran three marathons, and competed in many canoe-bike-run triathlons.  Looking at me, I know it’s hard to believe I used to be fast…sort of.

I grew up the oldest of six kids of a Catholic Army nurse mother and conservative Catholic Army officer dad up on a farm near Brainerd that they bought to teach us about work.  We sure didn’t like it then, but now appreciate knowing about construction, animals, outdoors, and virtues of physical labor.  It also taught us all that we didn’t want to farm for a living.

The biggest influences in my life were my optimistic Dad, my trophy wife Sally (she’s the brakes and I’m the accelerator in the family, if you haven’t figured that out by now), and over 25 years in law enforcement; 11 as a street cop and the rest as an investigator for the state.  These were the best jobs I’ve ever had, helping real people with real problems.  It made me liberal, and showed me how very fortunate I am in my life.  I also want to mention that I’m very proud of my 26-year-old daughter Jenny, and also my 11 and 12-year-old sons, Adam and David, who accompany Sally and me on all kinds of adventures.

I had an ascending aortic dissection in 1997 (the same thing that killed John Ritter recently) that made me prioritize work, family, and other.  I retired in 2001 and was promoted to house-husband.  I also am a substitute teacher and teach a Criminal Justice course at Metro State University with John Paquette and write articles for boating magazines.  I also work on an occasional project for Habitat for Humanity, do stuff for this church, and do environmental investigations for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

I worked on domestic violence legislation in the late 70’s and early 80’s, for a while the only male in a coalition of dedicated women.  I attended a course for volunteers who work with battered women put on by the Harriet Tubman shelter; the first male and first police officer to do that.  I served on a board for the new Anoka County shelter, and was on the governor’s task force for battered women.  I was asked by a group to testify in the state legislature against representatives from the rest of law enforcement in a successful attempt to strengthen the domestic assault laws.

I recall getting a call to a domestic assault at 3:06 a.m. on September 1, 1979, the first day police officers were able to arrest a suspected abuser without having the assault occur in their presence.  We found a particularly brutal assault by a man wise to the laws, and had the pleasure of being one of the people who had a hand in its passage explain the new law to him en route to jail.  Cops get a kick out of stuff like that.

I have always been somewhat political, and have always worked for Wellstone and others I believe in.  I don’t feel like I can whine about things unless I’m working on the problems, and you don’t have to know me very well at all to know how much I tend to whine about where we are going these days.

I recently joined “Wild Ones”, an organization which promotes the use of native plants to replace those that need mowing and fertilizer, not necessarily because of my pro-environmental conscience, but mostly because I would rather play on my boat or bike than fool around with lawn mowers, fertilizer, and weed chemicals.  I have never raked a leaf in my life and can’t imagine ever doing so.

I have always struggled with my weight, having never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like.  I’m somewhat intense and get a lot accomplished, but don’t like detail, meetings, formality, or expensive clothing.  (Ray Savela is my fashion guru.)  I’ve certainly never been accused of being a perfectionist about much that I do, except boating.  I compare the tyranny of excellence to the freedom of good enough.

I like to eat out at weird places like Ararat, a small new Kurdish restaurant in White Bear Lake.

I’m an optimist in the short term, and live each day to the fullest, but truly pessimistic in the long term.  I believe our species is far too stupid to survive.

I believe that testosterone, our chromosomal difference, and the need to dominate at connections keeps most men from being truly effective at government, and I’ve said for years we really should delegate the important leadership to women.  Males should be doing heavy lifting, hunting, gathering, and such.

And while I’m on the subject, (I forgot to mention this important message in both services!), I think males should be trained to use the toilet while sitting down.  It really is the superior position for all sorts of reasons and would cut down on conflict the world over.  This could even be a platform for someone running for political office…?

I met Sally in a Twin Cities Reader ad in 1988; she’ll tell you about meeting a fanatic environmentalist with a “Dump Watt” T-shirt and three canoes and piles of camping gear who went to BWCAW over 60 times but who now also loves powerboats.  We first got to WBUUC via Sally, whose friend Alida DeCoster was a ministerial intern at the old church.  We were married in a Quaker-UU wedding in a friend’s backyard in North Oaks by Ted Tollefson in 1989, and came here in 1996 when the boys were toddlers and we thought they would need some RE someday.  We met Al and Shari Mitchell checking the church out on the very same Sunday and joined with them that December.

I’m not a very religious person or even particularly thoughtful in this regard, having never read or seen anything that showed me there is really a supreme being or that there is even any true religion.  (I have no real explanation for creation, though.)  I did believe all I was told to believe by the nuns in my Catholic days, and can still remember the catechism and some Latin altar boy prayers.  I wonder if a truly benevolent and all-intelligent being would claim to be in charge of this world, unless this creator has entrusted the planet to us to work out our salvation as a form of his or her entertainment.  Maybe the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.  If there is such a being, I would hope she/he is secure enough to survive without having me on my knees every day telling him/her how great they are.  Anyway, the whole concept of a supreme being is far beyond me, and my speculation about it would be a waste of time that I would rather spend trying to make the most of life.

WBUUC is a wonderful group of people that I feel like I fit in with, maybe because it doesn’t seem that people here get that invested about what others believe.  It’s a place to go for fun, companionship after times like 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq, and it’s a way of doing something that matters.

Although I don’t love meetings, church government, or the business of keeping the physical plant and the organization running, helping out is a price I’m willing to pay to come here.  I would encourage all those who have any skills in art, teaching, organization, fixing things, electronics, or any other area come help us out with all that needs to be done, especially during this time of transition.

Victoria (whom I personally believe is the best public speaker I have ever heard, both in content and delivery), and you folks help define my place in the cosmos with this wonderful, do-it-yourself religious philosophy, using simplicity, service, pacifism, social action, and the inherent worth of all humankind to give me a weekly path without taking ourselves too seriously.  For example, I like the idea of having no formal services in summer.  It is most of what I want in a church without much of what I don’t want.

I remember once getting whacked with a ruler in fourth grade because I asked how eating meat on Friday could be just as serious as murder, and trying to figure out how to get to town on Saturday to go to confession for the horrible sin of “self-abuse” so others in the congregation wouldn’t wonder why I didn’t go to communion on Sunday.  No wonder kids get turned off by religion.  I didn’t, and still don’t, understand those sins, dogma, and all that guilt.

I believe in some of the teachings of the Bible and other religious writings, and of people like Buddha, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Wendell Berry, Dave Barry, Al Franken, and Jimmy Carter.  I think there are many ways for us all to worship, in large and small temples, groups, alone, and that there’s really no single expression of truth.  I don’t think you’re wrong until you hurt yourself or others.

Except for the boating thing, an affliction which I have no explanation for, I try to buy less and smarter, recycle, dress simply, listen to others, educate myself, exercise, make plans so I know where I’m going, and be open, loyal, respective, sensitive, and patient; be environmentally responsible, work for the planet and all of those less fortunate than I, live long, and play hard.

I believe we are measured only by what we do for our planet and ALL of its people, and that my afterlife will consist only of what people will remember about me and what little I might have accomplished while I’m here.  I had better get busy.